“To choose a good book, look in an inquisitor’s prohibited list.”  -John Aikin

An article appearing in today’s New York Times bemoans the lack of summer reading amongst the current generation of American adolescents. Perhaps my memories of the summers of yore have benefited from the nostalgic patina of time, but I remember summer reading fondly as an experience filled with joy.  Essential to this enjoyment was the freedom of choice: My parents allowed me to read what I wanted to and not what the school said I had to.

Aside from the element of personal enjoyment, it now turns out that summer reading is, in fact, good for you academically. The same Times article references a recent Department of Education study that suggests consecutive summers spent reading considerably boosts future scholastic test scores. This alone should come as no surprise. It was the secondary findings that were really quite interesting.

A key to this study was that the students were allowed to make their own summer reading selections, from a library that included a very wide range of titles. The rise in regular school year performance wasn’t due to reading dense text books or dusty classics during the hot months of summer.  In fact, during the first year the study was conducted the most popular book chosen was a biography of Britney Spears. It was the act of the reading, and reading a topic of interest, that yielded these dramatic results.

The gift of reading at a young age is a magnificent treasure to behold, yet far too often parents and educators diminish this gift by shackling a child’s imagination with restrictions on what they can and can’t read. It appears finally we have proof of the benefits of reading for reading’s sake, with freedom of selection. So be it Britney Spears or Balzac, Hannah Montana or Hemingway, the key to reading lies in reading what really interests you.